By: Tamara Jurkin
Conflict resolution starts far before an actual conflict arises. It begins when you first meet your potential client, the wording in your contract, and the expectations you set at the beginning of your working relationship. A solid foundation in a professional relationship is a proactive step when it comes to conflict resolution. Though this article is not exhaustive in nature, it will provide tips and strategies to help you address conflict when one arises.
Suggestions on How to Prevent Conflict Choosing the right client to work with and communicating clear expectations can help prevent conflict from arising.
Here are three important tips to keep in mind:
1. Keep an open mind
When meeting your client for the first time Listen attentively to your client during the initial meeting. Pay close attention to their body language, tone, their perception of your profession, and how you feel speaking to the client. These will indicate if this is someone you can productively work with. If you feel unsure of the potential client it is probably best to refer them onward. Trust your instinct.
2. Have a clear contract
Clear and concise contracts are imperative when working with clients. You must ensure that everything is clearly outlined prior to starting your work together. Ensure your client can understand any legal wording that may be included in the contract. Having your client sign every page of the documentation will confirm it has been received and reviewed. If you are mailing a contract or important letter to a client, consider using registered mail. Furthermore, always keep a paper trail for every client.
3. Manage expectations from the beginning
Start the working relationship however you intend to move forward with it. If you will only be answering calls or emails during certain hours, make that clear. If you have a 48-hour turnaround time for responses, ensure your client is aware. By answering one email outside of office hours you are communicating to your client that you overstep your own boundaries which can result in undesirable consequences.
Working Through Conflict Despite attempts to be proactive there is always potential for conflict.
When a conflict arises the goal is to diffuse the situation, address the conflict, and reach a resolution.
Here are some tips on how to resolve a conflict.
1. Set aside a reasonable amount of time for discussion
This helps to ensure that your client has time to share their concerns and for you to respond. Take control of the conversation by bringing the client back to the issue at hand should they begin to discuss other matters. Ensure that the conversation remains productive.
2. Actively listen
Listening to the client includes processing and responding to what the client has said. Refrain from intercepting the client to offer an explanation or to prematurely bring the conversation to a close. Ideally, the conversation should organically end when the conflict has been resolved.
3. Be cognizant of your words and tone of voice
Words can easily be misconstrued in emotionally charged situations. Ensure you are using a calm and controlled voice especially if the client is very upset. Using this technique will help the client bring down their tone of voice so a polite conversation can be had. Refrain from trying to make the client laugh by making a joke or using sarcasm as this perceived as condescending.
4. Respond appropriately
When responding to your client it is best to keep your response clear and concise. This does not mean being abrupt or short with your client, rather being clear so they fully understand your words. Tailor your language to your client so they fully understand what is being communicated to them. Once the conversation has ended, follow up in writing with the details of the conversation, and the resolution reached. Have the client respond in writing to acknowledge they have received the document. This is important especially if you become involved in a legal dispute.
Know When to End a Conversation
Even with your best efforts there may come a time where the conversation has taken a wrong turn. Some clients may resort to the use of profanity or threats when they are upset or feel unheard. In these situations, it is best to end the conversation before more damage is done to the working relationship.
Know your boundaries before you start working with clients. Ensure it is included in your contract if you will not accept the use of profanity. Keep in mind that with any limit you set, should you make an affordance once a new precedent will be set bringing all other boundaries into question.
Threats can happen given the nature of client based work and as such it is best to include your stance on threats in your contract. As the professional you must make it clear that such behaviour will not be tolerated. Do not under any circumstances allow a client to threaten you. If a client threatens themselves or someone else, you will need to call the authorities even if you unsure of the seriousness of the threat.
Keeping control of the conversation
A conversation can quickly spiral out of control when one person is emotionally charged. To resolve conflict, the discussion needs to be respectful and controlled. Even hostile emotions can be communicated in a respectful manner under the right circumstances. Some examples of losing control of a conversation include:
The conversation is not leading to a resolution.
The client is not settling down after a reasonable timeframe.
You cannot speak as the client is speaking over you.
The client is crying uncontrollably.
The client is not focused on reaching a solution, but wants to continue venting their frustrations.
You are starting to feel hot, nervous or are breathing faster.
You have sweaty palms and feel trapped.
You are beginning to panic.
You feel as though you are being yelled at and disrespected.
You feel unable to control your own emotions
If you have lost control of the conversation you must end the discussion. Prior to ending the call, you can set another time with the client to speak again. Some clients will agree and schedule another time and some will choose to finish the conversation. Either way, do not continue to engage in an unproductive conversation where tension is escalating and emotions are running high.
Ending a working relationship when a fair resolution cannot be reached
If you feel an appropriate resolution cannot be reached, the client’s demands cannot be met or that your working relationship has negatively been affected then you will want to consider ending the relationship. By continuing to work with the client you ultimately risk damaging your own reputation and potential for future business.
When a conflict arises, the goal is to diffuse the situation, address the conflict and reach a resolution. Stay focused on the issue at hand and acknowledge when it is best to end a working relationship. By finding your ideal client, hopefully such situations will be kept to a minimum.
There will be times where you may have thought someone was your ideal client and shortly after realize that they are not. You can try your best to continue with the working relationship but always keep in mind what your goal is – to be referred onward and build a network. If after the initial meeting, you would rather not work with the individual then do not. This is ultimately the best way to protect your reputation as an unsatisfied client will not refer you.
As a professional you may believe that it is alright if just one individual does not refer you however an unsatisfied customer is always willing to share their negative experiences. With the rise of social media, protecting your reputation may be difficult given how quick reviews can be shared online.
It is always best to use your discretion when embarking on client work and remain professional through the working relationship. Clear boundaries and contracts will help to steer the relationship in a productive direction. Always remember that when a conflict is handled well, it can bring you closer to your client which will result in a more productive working relationship.
About the Author
Tamara Jurkin is a Child and Infant Sleep Consultant and holds an Early Childhood Education diploma as well as a B.A in Psychology. She has worked for many years in a client based field that required strong conflict resolution skills. She has mentored many professionals in the areas of conflict resolution and professional skills. She is the founder of Quiet Moments Sleep Consulting. She is also a graduate, member, and mentor of the International Maternity and Parenting Institute where she continues to research child sleep and is an active member of the Admissions Board. She is also a Certified Happiest Baby Educator ( CHBE).She has worked with young children and families in a variety of settings for many years.